This article first appeared in the August 1, 1967 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.43, #19) and was written by Rev. Robert C. Harbach.
Dispensationalism and the Christian Under Law
We have pointed out that the law of God from the beginning of history was the standard by which men were to live, and that before the law of Moses was revealed. Very early in history Job knew the law. But C.I. Scofield denies that "the law had then been known.” Says he: "It would have been impossible, in a discussion covering the whole field of sin, of the providential government of God, and of man’s relation to Him, to avoid all reference to the law if the law had then been known (SRB, p. 569) But unquestionably the law had been known then as any “discussion covering the whole field of sin” could not possibly ensue without reference to the law. Therefore, Scofield errs, holding that this book “avoids all reference to the law,” since it “was certainly written before the giving of the law (ibid.).” We saw how faulty this thinking is in view of the fact that Israel had the law before it was formally given on tables of stone at Sinai (Ex. 13:9; Ex. 16:4, 28, 29). Besides, the book of Job makes frequent reference to the law of God! This is evident in Job’s confession of his transgressions (Job 31:33), which he did not hide as Adam. It being true that “where no law is, there is no transgression,” (Rom. 4:5) then the law must have been revealed to Job. Iniquity is also an evil Job confessed, but he also denied certain forms of iniquity of which he was not guilty (Job 31:3, 11, 28). The N.T. explains iniquity to be lawlessness, as a comparison of Ps. 32:2 with Rom. 4:7 (Gk.) will show. But how could Job speak of crimes of lawlessness deserving of punishment, not only by earthly judges, but by the Judge, if the law of God did not appear until the day of Moses? But since God’s judgment and justice were known (Job 8:3; Job 37:23), then His law must have been known. Job in that early era learned his high principles of righteousness from no other source than the moral law of God! This is literally stated in the book, Job maintaining, “I have not concealed the words of the holy one,” (Job 6:10) “neither have I gone back from the commandment of His lips; I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12) Job also was counseled, “Receive, I pray thee, the law from His mouth, and lay up His words in thine heart,” (Job 22:22)
Now we go on to only briefly deal with the dispensational error that the moral law was given only to the nation of Israel. For we have already shown to some length from Scripture that the law was in force well before there was a Jewish nation. Let one more plain Scripture suffice. “Now we know what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom. 3:19) The law is represented as speaking. It “saith,” not “said”; that is, it is always in inspired utterance, continually commanding and prohibiting. It is directed to those under it, and they are “every mouth,” “all the world.” Guilty and condemned before the law is all the world because the whole world is responsible for keeping the law. Here is a blanket condemnation of the whole human race, none excepted. On what basis? on that of the law; and therefore the universal condemnation stands, because the law stands over “all the world.”
More particularly, we want to examine the error of Dispensationalism which teaches that Christians are not under the law in any sense, that it is not their only infallible rule of faith and conduct. Perhaps this series on Dispensationalism will provide either directly or indirectly some enlightenment which will dispel the mists of confusion these errors bring and cause to hang over the minds of many for years. In that case, it is our duty as a teacher of the Word to “take up the stumbling block out of the way of My people.” (Isa. 57:14)
Naturally, dispensationalists have pet texts they like to quote in support of their antinomian theories. They will therefore point to, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ ...But now we are delivered from the law” (Rom. 7:4, 6) and to this, “For I through the law died to the law.” (Gal. 2:19) Passages like these are supposed to show that the law has nothing to do with the Christian and the Christian has nothing to do with the law. But these very words of Scripture so appealed to flatly deny what would be maintained by them, namely, that none but the nation of Israel were under the moral law. Why were Roman (Gentile) Christians “delivered from the law” if they were never under it? They had never been placed under the ceremonial law. But the moral law, taken in its largest extent, was manifested to all mankind, whether Jew or Gentile, so that the will of God was not utterly unknown (Rom. 1:19, ASV). To have died to the law and been delivered from it is a reference to its penalty, not to its precepts. In the context of this chapter Paul refers to the moral law exclusively, and testifies that in it he delights (Rom. 7:22).
“The Gentiles...have not the law.” (Rom. 2:14) “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14) “To them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law.” (I Cor. 9:21) What is this that we read that the Christian is “not under the law” yet is “under the law”? In the sense intended in Romans 6, even the O.T. saints were not under the law. We are not under the law as represented by Adam the first. For we are delivered from the law as to its curse (Gal. 3:13), but not as to its requirement. We are delivered from the law as to its condemning power (Rom. 3:19), but not as to its precepts (Ps. 119:93). The Gentiles were without law in the sense that they had no written revelation from God, and never had the ceremonial law imposed on or even suggested to them. When Paul was among them, he did not conform to the Jewish ceremonial law. In this sense he was without law. But at all times did he conform to the moral law of God. He never acted as without law to God, for he was under the law to Christ. When among Jews, he did not mind conforming to their ceremonial law, as no principle was involved. But when among Gentile Christians, he refused conformity to such regulations, even for an hour. The whole human race had the law from the beginning, but transgressed. Also “they knew God,” (Rom. 1:21) and so had the truth (and therefore the law: Ps. 119:142), but held it down in unrighteousness (v. 18), because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge (v. 28).
When we take a calm look at the ten commandments, is it not evident, that whether Christian or not, it is right to have no other god but God? Is it not in harmony with grace that the Christian may make no graven image or bow down to one? Is it below the spirit of the Gospel to prohibit the taking of God’s name in vain? Is it legalism to require the keeping of the Sabbath day holy? Has the law to honor parents been cancelled out of the epistles? Do not the laws prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing and coveting commend themselves to the conscience of every honest man? If one does not have the same attitude as David had to the law of God in Psalm 119, is he not an enemy to God? Yes, and to one’s own flesh and blood, and to the state as well.
This attitude Jesus Himself had. He never taught that the law was to be set aside, or that its perfect standard was to be lowered. He assured the new covenant church, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt. 5:17, 18) Christ is the great prophet of the law, but that does not eliminate Him as the greatest preacher of divine grace. For grace does not abrogate the law. Neither does faith, for “by faith we establish the law.” (Rom. 3:31) Grace and law are aspects of the truth which have their different emphases, but are nevertheless in perfect agreement. It is a mistake to think the two are avowed enemies. The idea destroys the unity of the Word of God. Moses, the O.T. mediator of the law, demonstrated the blessed consonance between law and grace when he offered sacrifice and sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the book of the law and upon the covenant people! The shed blood of Christ perfectly harmonizes the law with grace, because the pierced hand of Christ upholds the law. There is no conflict between Moses and Christ. Jesus also taught here that the law is both immutable and eternal. Heaven and earth do not abide semper idem; they pass away. But the law is unchangeable and perpetual. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God endureth forever, which means the O.T. as much as the N.T., the law as much as the Gospel. Christ came not to annul the law, but to magnify it and make it honorable.
No one can deny that the Psalmist had marvelous God-given insight into the death of Christ, but he also saw that this saving death would in no wise repeal God’s law. “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Thy law is the truth. The righteousness of Thy testimonies is everlasting. Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them forever. Thy Word is true from the beginning, and every one of Thy righteous judgments endureth forever (Ps. 119:142, 144, 152, 160). All His commandments are sure: they stand fast forever and ever.” (Ps. 111:7, 8) Our Lord manifested such a holy jealousy over His holy law that He not only warned that “whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:19) but also that “the Lord sitteth King forever” (Ps. 29:10) and will therefore execute justice against those who will not be ruled by His law: “But those Mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them bring hither, and slay them before Me.” (Luke 19:27) For the meaning of “shall be called least in the kingdom,” see Isa. 9:14-16, and try reading the verses in their reverse order. But from the above Lucan passage we learn the true character of regeneration and conversion, a change from a lawless rebel to a loving bondslave, one who says, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” (Rom. 7:22)
Rev. Robert C. Harbach (1914-1996) was born in Riverdale, MD on July 27, 1914. He graduated from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1955 and was ordained in October of that year. He served congregations in Lynden, Washington (1955-1963), Kalamazoo, Michigan (1963-1974), and as Home Missionary (1974-1979). He retired from the active ministry in 1979. He passed to glory on December 14, 1996.